So you just sent off that angry text.
Wait for it…
You watch as your incoming text bubble pulses on your phone. It’s been going for a while so you’re now expecting a book-length response, possibly to berate you for your agitated message.
It happens to us all — at least to those of us who use modern technology regularly. But technology isn’t the only way we communicate, even though it’s hard to remember a time where we didn’t.
Yes, face-to-face communication still exists. And, believe it or not, the same etiquette is expected whether we speak in person, over the phone, via text or even through social media.
Now don’t get it twisted. I’m well aware that how we communicate on our devices and platforms is much less formal than in person. But herein lives the chasm, the deep divide that so many of us are experiencing when we communicate in today’s world.
You don’t speak to someone in person the same way you would when responding to a Facebook post. If people did, I surmise there would be a few people getting deservedly slapped in the mouth.
As they should.
But here’s the thing. The quality of our communication and how frequently we socialize has an astounding effect on our health, and on our relationships.
Even since medieval times, people have been interested in the psychological and physiological effects of communication.
The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the thirteenth century decided to experiment with several newborn infants, tasking mothers and nurses to not communicate or “prattle” with the children because he wanted to see if they would naturally speak a certain language.
Tragically, all of the children died because they could not live without “petting or loving words of their foster mothers.” (Ross & McLaughlin, A Portable Medieval Reader,1949, p 366)
Less tragically, in modern times participants in isolation studies have been locked in rooms to see how long they could go without human contact. Some might last for several days, while on average most cannot stand isolation of this degree for more than two. In some cases, even a mere 2 hours. (Schachter, The Psychology of Affiliation, 1959)
Now what does all this have to do with you?
Communication is a vital part of our physical needs as human beings. We are social creatures by design. We live in societies because this is our natural tendency. Groups mean safety — this is hardwired into our DNA and it’s how we survived when large beasts used to try and eat us.
So why do so many people have trouble communicating these days?
Enter the digital landscape.
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
In today’s world we’re quick to respond, but we rarely listen. We’re too busy formulating or crafting a clever or witty response to adequately digest the information we’re hearing.
This is largely due to our technology.
Even in person, I might hear what you’re saying. But how do you know that I’m actually listening?
Answer: You can’t.
Though there are non-verbal cues that one can look for to see if someone is truly engaged while you’re speaking. When you’re communicating on devices, it’s not that simple.
And no, emoji’s aren’t non-verbal cues — though they might help a bit.
This is why it’s critical for you to become aware of your interpersonal relationships. You have to know when to embrace what we might refer to as “multimodality.”
This is the ability, willingness and the need to use other forms of communication for different situations, cultures and people.
Basically you can think of it like this: You probably won’t send your grandfather a text to tell him about your day. This is most likely going to be done over the phone or in person.
The same goes for situations where you might not be able to get your message across clearly with digital communication. If this is a message which holds a great deal of emotion, an angry text probably isn’t the best vehicle for delivery — just saying.
I’ve spent nearly two decades working in the hospitality industry as a bartender. During this time, I’ve learned a great deal about how to communicate with people, and often this involves learning non-verbal cues.
Some people don’t want anything to do with friendly conversation. They order a drink and bury themselves in their phone, scrolling as if their life depended on it. And they might leave without ever having uttered a word.
It happens all the time, and more frequently that I’ve noticed within the last decade.
Others sit down with a story to tell, or with the expectation of being entertained.
This is where true communication comes into play.
If you cannot empathize or at least read non-verbal cues, you’ll be ill-equipped to communicate with anyone — in person or on any platform.
You see, communication requires interest. This means you have to actually care about what someone else is conveying to you.
This requires thinking critically and empathically about what you are hearing.
And trust me, we all know when we’re being ignored.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
― George Bernard Shaw
I was once told that words are expensive. They are permanent and non-refundable.
And this is absolutely true.
What we say in a moment of anger, grief or sadness can affect someone in a myriad of ways. Many times, the person we’ve spoken poorly to will never forget the words we utter.
This is why it is so important to be thoughtful in our words. Because words are, in fact, actions.
Knowing when and how to communicate requires a bit of self-mastery, and a lot of understanding of people. You must know who you are speaking to and why. And you must decide the best way to respond.
This world is full of hurtful things, words among them. So remember, what you speak might not be truly what you mean or feel. But for the person you’re speaking to, your words mean more than you can possibly fathom.
We all deserve a conscious conversation.
We all deserve to be listened to.
And we all should remember this, even when we’re sending that text.
Or, when we ignore one.